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All things Pharma

The rules of an engagement: How to ensure your meetings programme is ABPI compliant

Meetings organised by pharmaceutical companies make a significant contribution to scientific research, clinical development and medical education. There is a body of opinion however which considers company-sponsored meetings as no more than an attempt to ‘wine and dine’ doctors so that they are positively influenced to prescribe products. Joan Barnard reports.

THE KEY REQUIREMENT OF THE CODE is therefore that the main purpose of any meeting should be education, and that any hospitality associated with the meeting should be secondary and, in fact, no more than the subsistence required by the arrangements for the meeting.

In establishing whether or not a meeting is acceptable, all aspects are important, including the arrangements (the timing, the venue, the hospitality etc), the content (presentations, by internal and external speakers), all the associated materials (invitations, programmes, handouts, stand materials etc) and also the costs.

All of these contribute to what every meeting will ultimately be judged on – the impression. It is a requirement of the Code that companies have a policy on meetings and hospitality. You should make sure you always follow this policy.


Any meeting you hold must have a clear educational content.

The use of the term ‘educational’ does not mean that the content must be solely non-promotional. A promotional presentation can also be considered to satisfy the requirement for educational content. The ‘educational content’ must be the primary purpose of the meeting

Hospitality, therefore, must be secondary.

To get the right balance, you need to consider the following in relation to both education and hospitality:


How many hours of education and how many hours of hospitality? E.g. a three hour dinner may be acceptable after an all day meeting, but would not be acceptable after a fifteen minute presentation


How does the quality of the hospitality compare with the quality of the education?
E.g a good quality hotel may be appropriate for a meeting featuring international expert speakers, but an evening meeting with a local GP speaker would more appropriately be held in the Postgraduate Centre.
CPD approval is good evidence of the quality of educational content, but does not in itself mean that the meeting is wholly acceptable under the Code. It is the overall balance between education and hospitality which is important.


Arrangements should be made to best suit the education.
E.g. ‘discussion over dinner’ suggests that the evening has been arranged to suit the hospitality needs, rather than the educational needs.


A very attractive, exclusive or ‘destination’ venue is likely to be considered the main attraction of the event, regardless of the quality of the educational programme.


Material associated with the meeting, e.g. invitation, programme, poster etc, should not seem to ‘sell’ the meeting on the venue or hospitality, rather than on the educational value.
Don’t use phrases like:
‘Gala Dinner.’
‘Champagne reception.’
‘Elegant spa hotel situated in beautiful grounds.’
‘A great night out.’
The ‘educational content’ must appear to be the primary purpose of the meeting.

Impression is paramount.

It is always important to ask yourself ‘How would this look to an outside observer?’


The venue must be appropriate to the purpose of the meeting You should plan the meeting, and then select a venue which fits the meeting requirements in terms of location, facilities, cost etc. You should not start with e.g a particular hotel or restaurant and then build the meeting around that venue.

The venue must be professional

This obviously rules out nightclubs, casinos etc. Conference facilities which are part of sporting facilities (e.g. golf clubs, football clubs) should only be used if there is no other appropriate venue. There should be no sporting activity during the meeting or immediately before or after it. The venue must not appear to be the main attraction of the meeting.

The venue should offer privacy for the

educational part of the meeting If the meeting is in a restaurant, the educational part should be held in a private room or area.

You must be able to justify a distant venue

You could justify holding a meeting for GPs from all parts of UK almost anywhere in UK as it is obvious that significant travel will be necessary for many attendees wherever it is held. It would be difficult to justify holding a meeting for GPs from Devon anywhere other than the southwest of the country.

The cost of the venue must not be excessive

The cost should be included in the overall cost of hospitality, which should not exceed what the attendees would pay for themselves.

The impression of the venue must not be excessive.

It is the overall impression which counts.

The venue must not seem to be the main attraction of the meeting

For this reason, venues renowned for their reputation in terms of luxury, exclusivity or entertainment facilities should not be used. This applies even if you get a good deal so that the actual cost is not excessive.


Any activity you offer must be professional It is acceptable to include activities only if they relate to the main educational purpose of the meeting.

Any activity which is mainly for entertainment should not be included.

Activities such as wine tasting are considered unprofessional and unacceptable.

You cannot offer any sporting activity as part of a meeting

This means sporting activity either as a participant or as a spectator


It is recommended that every meeting should be documented. At a minimum, there should be an invitation or a programme or a letter confirming the arrangements. All materials associated with the organisation or content of a meeting must comply with the Code.

This includes materials produced by third parties, e.g. invitation from chairman, handouts from external speaker. All meeting materials must clearly state that your company has sponsored the meeting. This applies whether the meeting is promotional or educational.

The impression is important

Meeting materials should not give the impression that the meeting does not comply with the Code, in particular regardingthe :

•main purpose of the meeting
•educational content
•cost of hospitality
•‘lavishness’ of hospitality
•availability of sports facilities.

The impression should always be professional.


You can only have a stand at a meeting which complies with the Code. The meeting must be primarily educational and all hospitality must be acceptable. This applies even if you are not directly responsible for the meeting.

This article is an extract taken from Joan Barnard’s third edition of The Code in the Field, which was updated in 2006. For further information on issues such as hospitality, accomodation and what you are allowed to pay for at a meeting, the Code in the Field is an invaluable resource. Visit www.codeinpractice.co.uk
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